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American composer Samuel Barber was something of a child prodigy. He began composing at the age of 7 and, having learnt piano, organ and voice, gained a place at the Curtis Institute of Music at just 14. Barber began composing seriously in his late teenage years writing a flurry of successful compositions, launching him into the spotlight of the classical music community. Many of his compositions were commissioned or premiered by such famous artists as Vladimir Horowitz, Francis Poulenc, and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau.

The Adagio for Strings, written in 1938, is one of the staples of the string orchestra repertoire. Originally conceived as the third movement of his String Quartet, written in 1936, Barber re-scored it for string orchestra, and two years later it received its première with the NBC Symphony Orchestra under Arturo Toscanini. The work begins with a feeling of poignant melancholy and suppressed anguish which slowly develops into an intense outpouring of emotion. As soon as it reaches it most passionate moment this emotion is reigned in, and the calm and collected sadness of the beginning returns, drawing the work to close.

This is one of the most moving pieces of music written in the Twentieth century and has earned itself a place in popular culture. It has appeared on several television and film soundtracks, most notable Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Oscar-nominated 2001 film Amélie. The piece was played at the funerals of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Prince Rainier of Monaco and was performed in a ceremony at the World Trade Center to commemorate the victims of the September 11 attacks. It has even been remixed as a electro dance anthem by DJ Tiësto.

© Matthew Lynch, 2009

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